Primates begin to meet

Dean Fawsy Shehata of Alexandria's St. Mark's pro-Cathedral and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Dean Fawsy Shehata of Alexandria's St. Mark's pro-Cathedral and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Published February 2, 2009

Alexandria, Egypt
The proposed Anglican covenant and global issues such as Zimbabwe and the financial crisis will be addressed by almost all of the 38 Anglican primates meeting February 1to 5 at the Helnan Palestine Hotel in Alexandria, Egypt.

The first day of the Primates’ Meeting began with a quiet morning led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and culminated in a worship service to dedicate St. Mark’s pro-Cathedral in Alexandria and install its new dean, Samy Fawzy Shehata.

“As we dedicate this cathedral we ought to be praying that this is a place where Jesus is alive,” Archbishop Williams said during the sermon, which was simultaneously translated into Arabic. “When we step into this church and experience Jesus’ life of prayer, it changes the way we see things. If we are faithful to our willingness to join in the prayer of Jesus, God will be faithful to us.”

Archbishop Williams said it is important to remember that “the person praying next to me is a person in whom Jesus is praying” and to try to see “the force of energy of Jesus’ life in them. When I diminish them, I am in danger of destroying Jesus’ voice in them.”

Archbishop John Chew, primate of Southeast Asia, spoke during the service about the importance of the companion relationship between the dioceses of Singapore and Egypt. “When great civilizations come together a lot can happen,” he said, “especially when Christ is active in all this.”

The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, under the leadership of President Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, is hosting the primates for their five-day meeting. The province includes four dioceses throughout Jerusalem, Iran, Egypt, Cyprus and the Gulf.

Alexandria, known as the Pearl of the Mediterranean, was founded around 334 BC by Alexander the Great. Today, the city is the second largest in Egypt and serves as the country’s main shipping port.

Before the dedication service, the primates heard about the mission of the Alexandria School of Theology from its principal, Rev. Emad Azmi Mikhail, who said that the institution’s primary goals were to facilitate the development of local full-time teachers and to reach a wide audience throughout the Arab-speaking world. Formed in 2005, the institution grew out of Anis’ vision to broaden theological education throughout Egypt.

On the agenda for Feb. 2 are discussions about the proposed Anglican covenant, the situation in Zimbabwe, and a session in which five primates will offer presentations about the mission priorities and challenges from their own contexts.

In addressing the covenant, the primates will review the latest draft (St. Andrew’s Draft) and the Lambeth Commentary, a document that sets out the responses of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference in their discussions of the St. Andrew’s Draft.

Later in the week, the primates will hear an update from the Windsor Continuation Group and receive a report the group has presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The group, which last met in December 2008, is charged with addressing questions arising from the Windsor Report, such as recommended bans on same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate.

While the issue of what conservative leaders are calling “an emerging Anglican Church in North America” is not officially part of the week’s agenda, it is expected that the primates will discuss that new proposed entity at some stage. Members of several self-identified Anglican organizations, known collectively as the Common Cause Partnership, announced the formation of the new entity in December 2008 to serve Anglicans who have decided they no longer want to be a part of the Episcopal Church or Anglican Church of Canada for theological reasons.

The five primates who boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference and support the idea of a new North American province are all attending this week’s meeting. They are Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Henry Orombi of Uganda, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, and Justice Akrofi of West Africa.

Since they last met in February 2007 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 10 new primates or provincial representatives are attending the meeting from Bangladesh, Canada, Central Africa, Melanesia, Myanmar, North India, Southern Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, and the West Indies.

The provinces of Central Africa, Melanesia and the West Indies all currently have vacant primacies and are being represented at the meeting by either the dean or senior bishop.

The moderators of the churches of Pakistan and South India are unable to attend the meeting, while the primate of the Philippines was not granted a visa to travel.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will arrive in Alexandria on February 2 after having traveled from a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council in Stockton, California.

The Primates’ Meeting, one of the instruments of communion in the Anglican Communion, will be chaired by Archbishop Williams. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, will act as secretary. Archbishop of York John Sentamu will attend the Primates Meeting for the second time in his capacity as primate of England.

On Jan. 31, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria held a private meeting with Archbishop Williams and received the primates at the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria.

Archbishop Williams “drew attention to the significance of meeting together in the city where many of the universal doctrines of the Christian faith were formed and where the seeds of the Christian monastic movement had been sown in the third century,” a February 1 release from the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) said.

Pope Shenouda welcomed the primates and noted that bishops have a special responsibility “to guide their people in the path of holiness.” He said that engaging with the young was particularly important, noting that the Coptic Church in Cairo alone was providing Sunday school education to more than 30,000 children.

Bishop Anis thanked Pope Shenouda for his generosity and paid tribute to his extraordinary teaching ministry based at the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, according to the ACNS release.



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